“How to exist with your feet in the day job and your head in the dream job.”
Not a day goes by when I don’t ask myself where the hell I’m supposed to be heading in my career.
This is what tends to happen when you enter the world of amateur journalism – if you can apply such an austere word as ‘journalism’ to this business. It sounds harsh, but this is a fair way of looking at it. Regardless of your writing, gaming, or analytical abilities, as far as the industry (and real journalists) are concerned you are nothing until you can attach a ‘paid experience’ role to your CV.
Oh, sure, your articles are well received and taken seriously by PR firms, who spend a lot of money to organise preview events and interviews with developers, but in the cruel world of the games industry we amateurs devote ourselves to producing content for free. Dose us up with games and peripherals, and like any other addict we’ll prostitute ourselves to whoever wants our goodies.
…Alright, that was more than a little bit harsh. What I’m really getting at is we love to produce content centred around the art that is gaming and the industry as a whole.
Not all of it is great content, to be sure. The maxim that “you get what you pay for” holds true especially in the business of gaming journalism, but any amateur worth his or her salt will want to contribute regularly and they will slavishly devote themselves to deadlines, hoping against hope that they will be plucked out of their amateur existence and asked to write exclusively for someone who can actually pay them.
I sometimes think to myself that I was naïve in believing my genius would be recognised instantly. I’m a stubborn bastard, though, and pure dogged determination is guaranteed to get you through most things in life. At least, that’s what I tell myself before I head off to work a night shift on my hospital ward.
It was that determination that got me through a hellish two tear period during my degree, when I was training to meet the fitness standards for military service. I was focused, dedicated, convinced that nothing could stand in my way, and my recruitment officer saw this when I met him and other applicants for the first time. But something did stand in my way: my medical history.
So I turned that determination to my writing and another passion of mine: video games.
Like all things that are practiced rigorously, my style improved as the weeks went on. I also played some truly awful and inventive titles that I would never have laid hands on as a regular gamer – and I consider that a positive side. It’s only when you’ve laid eyes on the shittiest of the shitty games that you learn to appreciate developers who make a bit more of an effort.
Writing about games is a great way for you to take your mind off of your day job, too, since you’re immersing yourself in an experience and then relating it to a readership of hundreds if not thousands.
With the amount of work I take on around… well, work… I oftentimes forget what I do for a living because I think of myself as a professional journalist – even though I’m not. That being said I’m much more proficient in my grammar usage than most amateurs. I know the differences between ‘their’, ‘there’, and ‘they’re’, for instance, and more often than not my skills as a proof reader outclass the average amateur site editor.
I’ve worked under a couple of really good editors, though, who were less about getting their spelling and grammar in order and more about the actual content.
If I hadn’t worked for these guys, I doubt I would scrutinise my work half as much as I do to make sure that it’s relevant and correct. That was an invaluable series of lessons – the best part was I didn’t have to pay for them, although I did need to rewrite a few paragraphs on how games publishers like to structure their downloadable content release strategy.
If you’re an amateur games journalist who wants to be taken seriously and find gainful employment, and you don’t know anybody who can offer you paid work, you soon discover the odds are against you. Doing it on an infrequent basis, reviewing the odd game here and there, can be a relaxing pastime. Doing it ‘professionally’, even in your tiny amateur-sized shoes, is bloody hard work.
With games I love playing – and we of the amateur circles do get a few – it’s easy to sit there and be content with my lot in life. With games I hate playing, the time and the experience drag on like a fat toddler at the end of a security harness, and I’m expected to maintain my neutrality on the matter. I found that part the toughest.
Being neutral in this business, even on an amateur level, I was aware that what I said about certain games and preview builds was being read by PR workers, who go about collecting all the data they can like the busy bees of the internet. I became more aware still of the interdependence of developers, publishers, and gaming critics, and a disturbing culture of freebies.
I don’t know how many ‘free’ games and products I got last year for the purposes of reviewing… certainly the figure reaches well into double digits. I do know I hardly have any time to enjoy them after I’m done writing about them.
Skimming the fatty surface off this particular media world has brought me a degree of recognition. It has gotten to the stage where PR people and actual journalists who I’ve bumped into at one event or another stop to shake hands and ask how I’ve been, like I’m the part-time office worker they see every so often. The industry itself casts a dizzy spell over newcomers who enter the ground floor. The various rituals we go through when we get to see exclusive previews and interview the hardworking developers behind the big names are intoxicating.
For some it isn’t enough and their enthusiasm wanes after they get a taste of what being a professional is really like. Me? I have my head in this career and my feet in another, so my hope is that at some point things will change. Until then, fellow amateurs and valued professionals, I will keep my eyes open and my mind sharp for you.